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Quote post: Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves

May 23, 2015

When I started reading this book by Sarah B. Pomeroy, I decided to share quotes that stood out for me.  Enjoy or ignore as you please.  Anything in brackets is my opinion

  • A fully realized female tends to engender anxiety in the insecure male.  Unable to cope with a multiplicity of powers united in one female, men from antiquity to the present have envisioned women in “either-or” roles…virginal females are considered helpful, while sexually mature women like Hera are destructive and evil.  The fact that modern women are frustrated by being forced to choose between being an Athena…or an Aphrodite…or a respectable wife-mother like Hera shows the Greek goddesses continue to be archetypes of female existence.  If the characteristics of the major goddesses were combined, a whole being with unlimited potential for development–a female equivalent of Zeus or Apollo–would emerge.”
  • In discussing the relationships of goddesses to mortal females, myth must be distinguished from cult.  Myths represent goddesses as hostile to women, or show them pursuing many activities foreign to the experience of mortal women.  In cult, on the other hand–that is the ceremonial veneration of these divinities by women–attention is paid both to the fulfilment of women’s needs and to the delineation of their proper roles in society.  Thus, for women, Athena’s patronage of weaving, Hera’s of marriage, and Artemis’ of childbirth were of supreme importance, but these qualities are not emphasized in myth.
  • Bronze Age societies are reflected in an oral tradition of epic poems sung by illiterate bards.  Succeeding generations of poets preserved the basic outline and formulaic vocabulary of the epics but each gave his own flavor to the retelling.  Thus through the ages, the traditional elements of the epics [may] have not only been preserved, but have also taken on the values, mores, and biases of each generation of poets.
  • Tradition tells us that a blind bard of exceptional talent, Homer, …shaped the tales into the monumental epics known as the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Homer himself was illiterate.  According to the most plausible theory, he worked in the eighth century BC; his poems continued to be transmitted orally by bards from generation to generation until sometime in the sixth century when they were set down in written form…it should be remembered that, because of they were oral documents, the Iliad and the Odyssey cannot profitably be regarded as accurate histories of the late Bronze Age.  They are ultimately poetic legends derived from the actual historical event…but they are also poetic reflections of the evolving societies and cultures of Greece.
  • A special pattern of matriliny occurs in the Greek epics–that of heroes who trace their decent through the union of mortal women with a god.  In reality, the custom may have served the social function of legitimizing the offspring of extramarital relationships. [This reminds me of the time that Zeus compared myths to gossip magazines during one of my meditations.]
  • Aristotle anticipated the Roman tendency to connect the vigor of the state with the virtue of the women, and political weakness with moral degeneracy — particularly of women. [which is ironic as women were not allowed a say in government]
  • The washing and dressing of the corpse has certain analogies to the caring for infants; the cycle of life takes us from the care of women and returns us to the care of women.  As a realistic consideration, kinswomen had the most cause to be deeply grieved at the death of their male relatives, for the lives of women lacking the protection of men were truly pitiful…At the funerals of her own father, husband, and sons, she must have cried for herself as much as for the dead.
  • …the practice of anal intercourse which was also a useful method of contraception. [Never thought of it that way…no wonder the Church is so against it.]
  • As far as can be determined, the educated women of Archaic Greece were all members of the upper class…the poetry of the women is the product of leisurely contemplation.  it is interesting that there are no traces of literary activity among Athenian women.  The city whose men would be responsible for the most notable creations in Classical Greece produced no female artists. [That we know of…how many may have been marketed under a male name or destroyed by unhappy relatives?]
  • Athenians of the Classical period continued to hold rigid expectations of proper behavior according to sex…they also applied different standards to different economic and social classes of women and men, according to the categories of citizens, resident foreigners and slaves…Political roles in Classical Athens must be considered in terms of duties rather than rights.  Obligations to family and state were the strongest complulsion in the lives of citizens, both male and female.  The principal duty of citizen women toward the polis was the production of legitimate heirs to the oikoi, or families, whose aggregate comprised the citizenry.  Every generation the members of the oikoi were charged with the perpetuation of the cults of their ancestors as well as the maintenance of the lines of descent.  In effect the interest of the state coincided with the interest of the family in seeing that individual families did not die out.
  • Vesta (Greek Hestia) was the goddess of the hearth, both public and domestic….Tending the family hearth was the responsibility of the daughter of the household…Since a virgin belongs to no man, she can incarnate the collective, the city:  she can belong to everyone…In addition to the service of Vesta, the Vestals were active in other areas of Roman religion.  Most paradoxical, perhaps, was their involvement in agricultural and fertility rites.  It appears virginity is not synonymous with sterility, and not incompatible with fertility.  Purity and intactness can be viewed as stored-up fertility…All had been enrolled between the ages of six and ten, wand were obliged to remain virgins throughout the thirty years of service…
  • The lives of Vestals were severely regulated, but in some respects they were the most emancipated women in Rome…the most liberated females are those who are not bound to males in a permanent relationship…Since a Vestal had no family for legal purposes…she could not inherit…could not be bound by oath…Further evidence of the freedom from the restrictions of ordinary women is to be found in the privileges enjoyed by Vestals.  They were the only women permitted to drive through the city of Rome in a carpentum, a two-wheeled wagon…they were preceded in the streets by a lictor (attendant) who cleared the way before them.  When other women were relegated by Augustus to the top tiers of seats at theatrical performances and games, Vestals retained places on the imperial podium.
  • The priestesses of Ceres were the only women besides Vestals who had the prestigious duty of administering a state cult.  Ceres was an agricultural divinity…an important goddess in earliest Roman when the principal concern was farming and religion was devoted to agrarian prosperity.  The goddess Tellus (Mother Earth) was closely associated with Ceres in the realm of agriculture, and both goddesses were especially concerned with the production of grain.  Ceres and Tellus were concerned with human fecundity as well…Both were goddesses of marriage, for…the chief  objective of marriage was procreation…There was also a tradition that Ceres protected wives…
  • Ceres was associated with death as well as fertility, for the dead are returned to the earth…one is born of woman and on dying returns to woman.  Following a death in a Roman family a sow was sacrificed to Ceres.  Moreover in public cult, Ceres was the guardian of the dead.  Sacred to the goddess was the pit in the earth (mundus Cereris) considered to be the passageway to the underworld.  This pit was uncovered three times annually to permit the spirits of the dead to visit the living.  The pit was divided into two sections, and may have been used also for storing seed-grain.
  • The cult of Isis had spread throughout the Mediterranean world, and easily adapted itself wherever it was carried…The goddess readily encompassed inconsistencies and mutually contradictory qualities…Even more remarkable is Isis’ acquisition of powers associated in the classical world with male divinities…her epithets are innumerable, her powers limitless…Plutarch explains the creativity of Isis with citations from Plato’s Timaeus, and writes that the power of Isis “is concerned with matter which becomes and receives everything:  light and dark, day and night, fire and water, life and death, beginning and end.”  Thus Isis could be all things to all people, a quality that greatly enhanced her popularity…she was worshipped in varying ways, but she remained Isis…in her omnipotence she was not threatening, for she was loving and merciful…Equality rather than domination is mentioned in a long hymn to Isis dating from the second century A.D. found…which includes praises of the goddess that “she made the power of women equal to that of men.”…she was accessible to entreaty–she could be yielding and merciful…It is clear that the devotee has a private relationship with the goddess, and the worship of Isis suited the individualism of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds.
  • The social order was precious to Romans, but disregarded by Isis; her cult was open to all…The cult of Isis…competed too successfully with the imperial revival of traditional Roman religion. Isis was too popular to suppress.  Instead, Romans and then Christians adopted elements of her cult, choosing to subordinate her power to the traditional abstract ideals of virginity, marriage and motherhood…The worship of Isis apparently developed among those who had little stake in the rewards of a religion based either on male dominance or on class stratification…In psychological terms, the appeal of Isis is comprehensible:  in an age of unrest the yearning for total maternal protection is indeed a basic impulse.
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